Better Call Saul “Breaking Bad” (S6E11)

“Why are we going off road?”

In last episode’s “Nippy”, it’s intended for us to feel worried that Gene repossessing the spirit of Slippin’ Jimmy can lead him down a slippery slope. Not so much a slope that would lead to his physical incarceration, but one that would compromise his spiritual growth. “Nippy” established that Jimmy’s draw to his former days as a con man is still a very real addiction. Even when that con backs him into a corner where he’s got nothing left but to acknowledge the trail of destruction it’s caused, he’s still left admiring its colorful lifestyle. “Nippy” shows him eyeing the Slippin’ Jimmy attire, but ends with him hanging it back on the rack as he returns to his life as Cinnabon Gene. It’s an ambiguous end implying the tension of who he is and whether he may or may not accept and learn to be better. He enjoyed the taste of Slippin’ Jimmy after a duration of suppressing it, but maybe there’s hope for him to find meaning and catharsis beyond that specific rush. Or maybe he succumbs to that flawed part of himself. Anything’s possible.

“Breaking Bad”, however, boils any hope for Jimmy McGill like a goldfish’s potential vacation home being used to cook methamphetamine. Many classic anti-hero shows such as The SopranosMad Men, and Breaking Bad have explored, in some form, the idea of redemption in their final seasons and Better Call Saul is no different. Jimmy McGill’s story is a tragedy. We are watching the tale of a deeply troubled individual and there’s no fluffing up this story. When the cold open throws us into Breaking Bad’s “Better Call Saul” episode from season 2 and shows us the kidnapping from Saul Goodman’s perspective, Jimmy begs, “Anywhere but the desert!”. Being dragged off-road back to a setting that’s host to his open grave is a powerfully scary start to the episode, underlining Jimmy’s nature to return to potentially fatal outcomes. Even after the many close, dangerous encounters which have caused so much trauma and heartache, it still results as a merely bad hangover he needs to cure with more bad behavior. He’ll feel remorse for a period, but before you know it, he’s making the same mistakes.

When Jimmy decides to return to Marion and Jeff’s house, it has nothing to do with the effort of self-preservation. At first Jeff suspects Saul may be upset that he bought his mother a new laptop which could possibly set off red flags to law enforcement if too pricey, but it’s actually Jimmy giving in to his demons. Jimmy wants to make an ally of Jeff in order to commit more scams and overturn more money. Last episode ended with Jimmy threatening Jeff to never come back or get too greedy, which is the exact trap Jimmy himself falls into. Earlier, when Jimmy finally makes contact with Francesca on November 12th at 3:00 PM (a meet-up scheduled since the cold open of season 4’s “Quite a Ride”), he is trying to figure out what money is left after the feds raided his stash locations. Unfortunately, everything’s gone but it doesn’t seem like it’s the end of the world for him. He still has access to a hefty haul, being enough to afford double the amount of his initial disappearance from Ed. There would be no practical reason for him to need any extra cash. If anything, he’s more interested in the world of his criminal associates’ well-being than the financial loss he’s suffered.

Jimmy will especially perk up when Francesca informs him that Kim has reached out, asking whether Jimmy’s alive. For any romantic, this hits like a ton of bricks. When relationships go south and you still think about that person, it means the world when you learn you’re still in their thoughts. It’s comforting. There’s a moment when Jimmy is driving back to live his life as Gene where he comes to a literal crossroads. He daydreams as he’s driving and snaps to before deciding to get back to a payphone. We learn that Kim is in Florida working for a sprinkler company, as he uses an operator to get through to her. What may have been a pursuit in comfort leads surprisingly to anger and frustration. We don’t get to hear the literal conversation as trucks roar by, but perhaps the emotions speak louder than words.

The end of “Fun and Games” had already tied a direct correlation between Kim’s departure and Jimmy burying himself deep into the world of Saul Goodman. Considering this most recent installment emphasizes the worst mistake Saul Goodman will make by joining forces with Heisenberg, we can probably infer the reason for Jimmy’s frustration. We already know he blames others for the results of his actions. He blamed Chuck’s death on Howard and Howard’s death on Lalo. Now it seems he’s blaming the entirety of Breaking Bad on Kim. He suffers while she lives freely in Florida. Kim took accountability for what happened to Howard and as far as Jimmy knows, she’s freed herself from the bad choice road. Jimmy despises his inability to do the same. It’s the exact reason why Jimmy began throwing bowling balls on Howard’s car and then some, because Jimmy hated that Howard’s pursuit in therapy allowed him to come out the other side in a healthier state of mind.

When Jesse Pinkman inquires about Lalo, it’s not for the sake of having fun reinforcing the throwaway line that gave birth to the character, but it helps highlight the problem with Jimmy’s choices. Who’s Lalo? Jimmy refers to him as nobody but you can tell the question rattles him because on a subconscious level, Lalo represents the grim reaper. Dead or alive, Lalo has evolved into more of a concept, being Jimmy’s inability to change. It’s his inability to turn back from the dangerous road. This is why he immediately requests Walt give the RV’s ignition another try, because the last thing he needs is to be sitting in the dark with his own thoughts along with two kindred spirits. He can’t risk the chance to reflect on what brought him here and what lies ahead, because he knows the answer and chooses ignorance. As the RV pulls away, it’s followed by a ghastly over-head shot of the grave Walt and Jesse dug for Saul, which eerily casts a black-and-white Gene lying within it. One of the greatest transitions the show has ever displayed.

Jimmy’s desire to reach out to Kim was most likely for the purpose of reconciliation, perhaps in the effort to not feel so compelled by his more destructive traits. Kim used to be someone who can pull Jimmy back from his mistakes, but at a certain point in their relationship, it shifted to encouragement. She knew this and left for both of their sakes. The way their phone conversation transpired may have been Kim not meeting Jimmy’s pursuit for comfort, but instead painting a more realistic picture of his current situation. His anger seems almost out of protest. There is a reality Jimmy does not want to face and of course he’s going to fight her on that. This exchange clearly has poured more grease on the fire, explaining why he doubles down on his bad behavior when he decides to prey on a series of unsuspecting barflies and steal their credit card and bank information. Perhaps Jimmy’s thought process is that if he’s unable to escape the consequences of his own actions, then he might as well go down in a blaze of glory. No more hiding. Perhaps the phone call conversation gave him further excuse to pin the blame on Kim so he can continue to embrace the worst part of himself in response. The montage of Jimmy aggressively scamming one victim after another, intercut with him sleeping around, is played to Mike Nesmith’s “Tapioca Tundra”. One key lyric is, “It cannot be a part of me, for now it’s a part of you.”

Jimmy is seen snapping out of a trance twice in this episode and both scenes are heavily related. The first is when he’s thinking about Kim on the drive back from his call with Francesca, and the second is when Mike moves onto new business after warning Jimmy not to get involved with Walter White. Kim is certainly what drives Jimmy’s decision to pursue the “crystal ship” because Walter White’s talents and potential for success is his meal ticket to capitalize on showing the world and Kim his indifference. What’s interesting about this episode is it’s not ultimately an exploration of Jimmy doubling down on a level of bad behavior he’s previously enacted, but Breaking Bad seems to have made his character even more despicable. Many fans (not all) over the years seemed to have this relentless need to pinpoint when a character finally “breaks bad”, implying the first or most true moment a character consciously makes a morally wrong decision. This is usually a pointless endeavor because being good or bad doesn’t fall onto one singular moment, but many, many moments. Whatever you are capable of, you already possess until the moment in question presents itself. So when Jimmy decides to go through with the scam against the cancer patient, it’s not the moment he finally broke bad (he’s been doing bad stuff for as long as we’ve known him), but it is him stooping down to a worse level.

When Jimmy first hears from Mike that Walter White has cancer, he seems to show genuine concern. It’s possible he sympathized with Walt as an underdog doing whatever he can against all odds, similar to the journey Jimmy’s had to endure his entire life. From Jimmy’s perspective, maybe this explains why Walter is so on edge when he first met him. However, Heisenberg’s toxic behavior wasn’t the momentary result of being in a bickering match with his partner Igor, but as we know, it would prove to persist for as long as Jimmy knew him. Walter is the guy that would physically and verbally abuse everyone around him until the very end and it leads Jimmy not to glory but to his downfall, hurting countless people in the process. Walter White is an asshole and perhaps Jimmy feels like an asshole for ever considering they were alike in any way. This explains Jimmy’s initial involvement with Jeff turning from self-preservation to a practice in self-loathing after his phone call with Kim. Not only does he put blame on Kim, but blames Walter for how things turned out, being another easy scapegoat. In other words, the cancer patient he plans to scam gets no sympathy from him this time. Jimmy actively chooses against it and when Jeff’s friend tries to protest, Jimmy becomes as vicious as he was with Kim on the phone.

Jimmy’s unraveling is properly conveyed when Marion overhears him being nasty to Jeff’s friend and his dog before whisking him inside the closed garage. Marion possibly senses there’s something off about Gene now. Once inside, Jeff’s friend brings up a good point in how they are rolling in dough so there’s no harm in letting one man not fall victim to their crimes especially when it’s an innocent man with cancer. Jimmy is combative though and persists on taking this man down. It’s also safe to say that Jimmy didn’t actually vet his marks for being single guys with lots of money, because in truth he probably resents anyone with a family. Nobody is immune from being a sucker. For Jimmy, this is not about the money as much as it’s about it being his call and if he greenlights the hit, there’s no slowing down regardless of moral conflict. For him, it’s an amateur mindset otherwise and he’s long passed mulling over what’s right or wrong. As the cancer patient himself says, “You only go around once” and that’s exactly the mantra Jimmy is using to justify his push forward.

If the phone call with Kim is the catalyst to Jimmy descending down yet another dark path, then the final moment when he breaks and enters the cancer patient’s home, is the point of no return. The visual storytelling bookends this final shot with Jimmy kicking the glass of the phone booth and serves as a callback to when Jimmy broke the door down to Chuck’s house in order to destroy his confession on tape. Jimmy has been making a series of mistakes his entire life, and the fact that the final scene is shown parallel to the fateful day he decided to pull up to J.P. Wynne Chemistry Lab, only helps show the severity of the line he’s crossed here. There has never been a cop-out resolution to a corner the writers have wrote themselves into across either show, so expect this final break-in scene to have some serious weight in the endgame. Is there redemption or hope for Jimmy to turn things around? This episode answers no.

Other thoughts:

-This is the first time we’ve ever seen Saul Goodman in any active cook site of Walt and Jesse. The three of them in the iconic RV together was certainly jarring. The way this episode interweaved these scenes together and made them meaningful was nothing short of brilliant from writer/director Thomas Schnauz.

-Jimmy may have biased reasons to justify going through with robbing the cancer patient, but he also vocalized his relation in having to take exotic pills. There’s also the Breaking Bad era scene which follows with Francesca reminding Saul to take a handful of medications. This again, helps show Jimmy’s inability to sympathize and also feeds into the self-loathing take as well.

-We get some extra information on what happens to some Breaking Bad characters, including the fact that Huell got to walk after being held in a motel room under false pretenses by Hank and Gomez. Ever since Breaking Bad ended, Huell has been living in a perpetual prison from an art standpoint for the better part of decade now. After the last Huell scene in Better Call Saul being him questioning Jimmy and Kim’s desire to sabotage Howard, it’s nice to know he was able to move on to a life in New Orleans.

-The last time we saw Jimmy singing karaoke, it was a sweet bonding between him and his brother Chuck back in the more innocent days before he knew how much his brother resented him. Now he’s using karaoke as a weapon in contribution to stealing enormous amounts of money from innocent people.

-It was excellent to see Mike wearing the same sunglasses he wore back when he was first introduced as a cleaner in Breaking Bad. We can suspect that Saul Goodman’s business is a well oiled machine in this point in time and an opportunity for Mike to willingly moonlight his services. Working for Gus in this era probably wasn’t requiring the same urgency as it was when playing chess with Lalo. It’s the golden era of the Saul Goodman and Gustavo Fring empire. Back then the phrase “putting my foot through your skull” was just playful banter.

What did everyone else think?

Better Call Saul “Nippy” (S6E10)

“How you doing Marion?”

“Great. Are you okay?”

“Oh yeah.”

Up until last episode, the final season has carefully been building to the heartbreaking context as to why Kim is out of the picture in Breaking Bad. Despite their loving relationship and the fun they have twisting the world into their favor, many people suffer as a result. Kim comes to terms with this and not only decides to walk out on Jimmy, but she quits being an attorney altogether. She garners the impressive willpower to walk away from everything she values in her life in order to make a serious change. She won’t be benefiting from the Sandpiper settlement because at this point, it’s blood money and always was. Whether Kim’s decision to leave everything behind helps her come out the other side as a better person or not, she is undoubtedly taking accountability for what’s happened and leading the charge for what she believes is best. Whereas her path for transformation and atonement is her doing, it contributes to the final nail in Jimmy McGill’s coffin because of the willpower he lacks. Jimmy’s regression into Saul Goodman has always been a result of Jimmy doubling down on his unhealthy behavior whenever his life takes a devastating blow. He’s oblivious to how his actions hurt others until they do and is willing to make up for it only when it’s too late. And if he can’t make up for it, he shifts the blame onto others. He’ll internalize guilt, grief, and trauma with an impatience for self-reflection.

So if you’re feeling a little underwhelmed by a flash-forward episode that’s about Slippin’ Jimmy getting his groove back after having just watched an episode solidifying the tragic backstory to Saul Goodman, then you’re okay in feeling that. Skipping ahead to the Gene timeline after last episode’s jump ahead towards the cusp of the Breaking Bad era is a bold, but necessary move. As soon as Jimmy McGill sits in Saul Goodman’s office chair, we know the shell of a human being he will be for an entire series worth of time. Perhaps there’s more to explore there, but for the sake of “Nippy”, we understand the spiritual toll which lead him to the point in time Gene’s at now. “Nippy” as an episode, is designed to leave you kicking and screaming. It’s one thing for Kim to be ripped from the show like a band-aid on an old wound, but the entire world beneath Jimmy has collapsed. It’s appropriate that the Better Call Saul opening theme intro abruptly reaches the end of the tape. “Nippy” allows us to feel the blunt, coldness of what it means for Kim to have left Jimmy. It’s not something she’s done to him, but a downward spiral of something that couldn’t be helped. As we near the end of the series and Gene has nobody but himself, can he turn his life around? Is there redemption for Jimmy McGill? The underlying tension to a full episode where he’s adrift as Gene, is owed to that question. Chuck argued he couldn’t change. Kim left to give themselves the best opportunity to change. So how is that going?

When we last left Gene, he declined the opportunity to be relocated again after Jeff the cab driver discovered who he was. He declared to handle Jeff himself. It was a breaking point where Gene realized his inability to suppress who he is for the sake of self-preservation. “Nippy” opens with guest star Carol Burnett playing Marion, an elderly woman on a rascal scooter who’s shopping for groceries. If you didn’t feel more adrift by the strategic placement of “Nippy” in this season, introducing a new character played by such high-caliber talent only feeds into the complete tonal shift you’re intended to feel here. When her scooter gets caught in the snow, it’s Gene who’s revealed to be in the vicinity posting up flyers of a lost dog named Nippy who we know doesn’t exist. The giddy Slippin’ Jimmy persona is abundantly present here which contrasts, almost mockingly, to the ramifications felt from Kim’s departure. Who is this new character? What is Gene up to?

After cutting the motor’s connection on the scooter, Marion accepts help to be pushed the rest of the way by Gene to her house. This is important to note considering she was introduced as someone who refuses help. Marion intended to go about things her way similar to how Gene had decided to refuse Ed’s help and take the matters of Jeff into his own hands. The difference here is that Marion accepting help leads to a rewarding friendship with Gene (or so she thinks), whereas Gene accepting Ed’s help means throwing more money at the pursuit to run and hide from who he is. That’s the conflict of Jimmy’s character. In the effort of self-preservation, Gene is taking matters into his own hands through actions proven to be the cost of having nobody in his life. Marion can switch between independence and accepting help without it being an intense character or circumstantial crisis .

The plot of this episode is Gene’s attempt to overcome Jeff and by inserting himself as Marion’s house guest, it’s revealed Jeff is Marion’s son. The miserable, suppressed person we’ve known as Gene Takovic is completely absent. What we see here is full Slippin’ Jimmy as he commands the room, absorbing any power Jeff felt he had over Saul Goodman. Jimmy is able to see ten steps ahead on what Jeff intended to do against him, being extortion, but he taps into Jeff’s deeper sensibilities, dangling the idea of reaping rewards from within the criminal paradise. The idea of Saul Goodman or Slippin’ Jimmy coming to life in order to preserve Gene’s cover is a mind trip, considering the risk of exposure is raised in the effort to lower it. However, for Jimmy, all that matters is that it’s an excuse for him to be his colorful self once again. He’s starved for it.

Across six seasons, we’ve followed Gene at the Cottonwood Mall in Omaha, and for the longest time it’s served as Saul’s final destination. The final resting place to blend into in order to evade capture. Not once would one ever consider he’d use the entire map of this mall as the target of an elaborate heist. It’s as if this is a chance for Jimmy to laugh in the face of his own dire circumstances. Jimmy’s plan here is quite creative. He’s cozying up to security to get an idea, on average, of how long the cameras can go unwatched before Frank the security guard (played by Parks and Recreation’s Jim O’Heir) can finish his cinnabon. To extend the time, Jimmy’s also familiarizing himself with Frank’s interests in sports in order to converse with him longer before the cinnabon is completely eaten. He builds a rapport with security so they can trust him, all while scoping out the geometry between the big ticket items for Jeff to steal. If Kim is out there knowing Saul Goodman is deep in hiding, you can bet the last thing she expects Jimmy’s doing is reciting silly rhymes over a megaphone as a random cab driver runs drills in an open field. Even Jeff says, “This whole thing, it seems crazy”.

One key thing to consider throughout this entire episode is that despite how cleverly thought out Jimmy’s idea is, it’s no different than any other heist he’s pulled throughout the series. Something is always subject to go wrong and people can mistakenly get caught in the crossfire. When Jeff needs motivation to go through with this scheme, Gene ironically uses Walter White as a shining example for the riches that lie ahead. When the camera pans in on the cinnabon as Frank prepares to eat it and Jimmy checks his watch for the first time, there’s a feeling of impending doom. Like a bomb’s about to go off or Jimmy tampered with it in some way. Jimmy also turns Marco’s ring on his pinky finger in this moment. This ring signifies his love for the scam but also was gifted to him after Marco’s heart attack. After how many visits from Cinnabon Gene, the same occurrence can likely happen to Frank, but Jimmy doesn’t think about that. When Marco died in the middle of their scam in the season 1 finale, his last words were “this was the greatest week of my life”. This is the positive mindset Jimmy may have in the event things go wrong, so long as he gets one last rise.

When it’s finally showtime and Jeff eventually slips and knocks himself out unconscious, Jimmy is closer to a dead end than he’s ever been. He doesn’t chalk the potential loss up in the notion of “at least I went down doing what I love” but he regresses into a desperate, stammering rant on how he has nobody in his life. He brings up his deceased parents, Chuck, and Kim as concept. He acknowledges how if he died tomorrow, nobody would care. All of this, more or less, is exactly what Jimmy knows to be true. It’s no coincidence that in this moment of desperation, the first thing he thinks of is the death and ruin of those closest to him, along with the revelation that he has nobody, but he uses this moment of awareness as if it’s the last trick in the bag. It’s a hopeful sign that deep down he carries responsibility for how his life has turned out, but once Jeff awakens and scurries off into the bathroom, a wave of relief and absolute euphoria washes over him. We saw a glimpse of Jimmy’s pain being realized, but he’s channeling it in a manner which only serves his destructive side.

What’s sad is that if Jimmy didn’t treat the entire world like potential marks, he’d be able to build a friendship with a person like Frank or Marion, but he can never get out of his own way. For him, a happy ending in his scenario is his fictional dog Nippy being found by a family a few blocks down the road, but in subtext, it’s the idea that he was able to pull off another scam and as far as he knows, get Jeff out of his hair. The frustration of this episode is that after Kim leaving Jimmy and the deterioration of Jimmy’s character throughout Breaking Bad, we’re left struggling to envision a scenario where Jimmy ever achieves a moment of genuine catharsis especially when it means nothing when it stares him in the face. After Gene leaves Frank’s security office, he retreats to a blind spot against the wall which can be interpreted as him reeling from the thrill of the close call, but on closer inspection, it appears he’s emotionally exhausted. This could involve the blind spot of his own self which he’s willing to keep unseen. With three episodes left, his character is spiritually on the line. If his idea of a happy ending is getting the upperhand on a stranger by luring him into the scam only to threaten mutually assured destruction, then that’s a somber, yet fitting note which speaks to the character we’ve followed for the entirety of two dramatic television shows.

The episode ends with Gene in the shopping mall taking interest in the colorful apparel of what he once wore in his heyday. He likes it, but he knows he shouldn’t wear it. He puts it back on the rack and walks away from the shot, out of focus, once again blending into his surroundings. He’s also carrying his Kansas City Royals bag which we can suspect he carries more as a memento of Kim than anything else. This could be a sign of hope that he cherishes the idea behind why he left her, as painful as it was. The opportunity to improve as a human being may not ever be taken, but perhaps beneath the layers upon layers of masks the man wears, there’s a part of him who’s capable of doing so.

Extra thoughts:

-Chuck referenced Carol Burnett in season 2’s “Rebecca” when trying to establish Burnett’s iconic ear tug as a signal to call it a night when Jimmy as a dinner guest becomes too obnoxious for him. I bet Jeff wishes he could have given the same signal to his mother in the attempt to get Jimmy to leave in this instance as well.

-For the past few episodes, I’ve been wondering what will become of the Better Call Saul intro after episode 10. For the previous five seasons, every episode has used the same variations in chronological order. The season finale always ended with the World’s Greatest Lawyer mug falling to the ground. It’s really interesting how they utilized the tape running out right before it smashes on the ground. What happens next is left up in the air.

-As an inventory manager myself in a large warehouse for one of the top leading convenience distributors in the U.S., I can assure you Jimmy would have been able to leave a giant crate at the receiving dock overnight with no problem. In my experience, warehouse managers are always willing to deal with issues dropped on their lap last minute in the next day (or days). I also appreciate the restraint from Jeff stealing too many of each item with high dollar amounts. Small discrepancies in inventory won’t go noticed right away. High dollar merchandise going missing will be noticed, but within 72 hours of Jeff being off the security tapes, he’s likely in the clear. Whether or not he takes Gene’s warning to stay away from him or to not get greedy is still up for debate. For all we know, Jeff might foolishly consider this a ‘get out of jail’ free card (give the police who they really want) in the event he gets caught trying to replicate this stunt in the future.

-The montage of Gene building a relationship with the security guards and getting everything in place ranks among the series best. Excellent use of the swift splitscreen panels sliding in and out of frame and “Jim on the Move” by Lalo Schifrin really pops.

-Gene may be destined to run the Cinnabon for the rest of his life, but won’t Marion think it’s odd when he never visits her again? And what will Frank’s reaction be if Gene cuts him off cold turkey. In a universe that’s been largely consequential, what can we expect in terms of what catches up to Gene? Or will the final episodes strive for something else entirely?

What did everyone else think?